Vanya and the Green Knight

Unknown Story

Note: Takes place in Ravenloft, doesn’t affect current map. This features The Church of Ezra
This is supposedly in the domain of Borca

“Here-tic?” The word caught in his long throat, creaking past his large adam’s apple in a squeak. He swallowed, and then shook his head, copper curls bobbing at his shoulders. “Sentire Aristide? Impossible. There is no better man in the city, in the realm.”
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“Rufinus…Fin…” Ilio took hold of the sleeve of his grey cassock, knuckles white, and pulled him in his wake. Rufinus tripped at first, rigid with shock, almost going headfirst down the stairs. He was always pale, but he looked ready to faint. Ilio went on in a whisper, as if the portraits in the stairwell were eavesdropping. “I heard the charge. Bastion Innocent was waiting for him on the stairs of the great archive as he came out into the forum, and he said it loud enough for the entire market to hear. Behind him, a small army of his Wardens, full armed. He expected a riot.”
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“He probably wanted one, the devil. More people to burn in Our Lady’s name. He would light the streets at night with heretics! But he cannot kill everyone. Surely the Don will not have it.”
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“The Don has no love of Aristide. He calmed the crowds just by lifting a hand, Fin. He walked to armored cart like it was his carriage and these men his escort. He is too powerful, and the commoners offer up prayers to his name. Innocent hates him, and now he will have his way.”
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“But our order shuns wealth and politics! He has no worldly power, and he has done no wrong. Surely Innocent cannot just say the word ‘heretic’ and make it so.” He stopped on the steps, defiant, as if Ilio were an opponent across the forum. Ilio looked at him with a sneer and sad, dark eyes.
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“He can, Fin. You are so naïve. There is nothing but politics, whatever one wishes, and Innocent has the favor of the Praesidius and the Don and all the aristocracy. He means to purge the church. Your whole order, Fin. The trial is tomorrow, and all your order will be welcomed to speak in Aristide’s defense. Any who gainsay Innocent will be called heretics. Everyone loyal to Aristides will join him. The widow, the rack, the tongs, Fin. He can make anyone say anything he likes. Within the week the Greyfriars will be outed as having orgies with demons and burining Books of Ezra for their hearthfires. They’ll say you cursed all the wigs who have been poisoned in the past year, that you caused the pox in Lowtown, that you would cast the whole city into the Rift. It will be ludicrous, and everyone will delight in the gossip. And Aristide, who calls all men fools, will be laughing from his grave. If they let him die. Innocent is as like to keep him.” Ilio looked ill, despite his fervent satire.
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Ilio was a good friend, even if he was a Whitefriar and liked his wine and his wealth. Rufinus had seen him dissect corpses without flinching, seen him laugh back in good humor when a wig threw wine in his face and told him religion was a blight. It was Aristide had told him to keep Ilio as his friend. “A sword hand needs calluses,” he had said, though he had never chided Rufinus for his tenderness. “You are good for each other,” he had said. But now Ilio’s smiling, fair mask was twisted, and his eyes had tears in them unshed, making them seem twice as large and dark as when they drank belladonna for holy days. People lied often, and Ilio more often than most, but by his face Rufinus believed him, and he found he could not move or speak for horror.
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“How…how do you know these things?”
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“Because I have eyes and ears. You must trust me. Leave. Leave now. Take food and wine and whatever books you treasure most and don’t worry of stealing them; I know you Greyfriar’s don’t own anything. Nay, choose your books, not more than you can carry a distance, and I will get food and wine for you. Meet me in the kitchens. I know a way out of the city.”
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“No! How can I leave my master to die in such a way, leave all my brothers? It is cowardice.”
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“This is why Innocent will have you all.”
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“Have you told the others?”
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“I will. Though I think most of them know by now already. Still, I will use my connections to help those of the Greyfriars that I can, I promise you. But I will not lift a hand for anyone until you are gone from this city.”
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“What connections?” The implication was frightening. Stranger, though, that it sounded like Ilio had come straight from seeing the scene at the forum to tell him this, before even reporting to the Baileys of his own order. “Ilio, why me?”
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Ilio growled and grabbed him by the rope at his hood’s collar, jerking his face close like he would spit a curse in it. “Your master is a saint to have such patience for you.”
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Rufinus’s feet tipped off the stair, and his hands caught at Ilio’s white velvet robes. He expected Ilio to let him go, maybe even toss him down. Instead Ilio kissed him, holding him up by a fist at his throat. It was violent, confusing, the taste of wine and fear on a tongue that forced its way into his mouth. Like one swept into a dance, he followed the motions without understanding, opening his mouth, pushing back. It burned his throat and eyes the way brandy did, and he was dizzy. He panted as Ilio pulled back and let him slump onto his shoulder.
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Ilio…hugged him, burying his face a moment in the worn grey folds of his hood, in wild red hair that he never bothered to style, like Ilio’s black ringlets, or shave off as some Greyfriars did. The moment was broken when he hugged back, worried now for his friend’s sanity. Ilio pushed him away, holding him by the shoulders. “Go get your books. You’ll pine without something to read, and you’ll find nothing in the countryside. Meet me in the kitchens before the hour’s bell tolls. Don’t speak to anyone. Don’t do anything stupid.”
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He stood glaring, like he would slap him if he asked a question, waiting for him to move in the direction of the library. Rufinus found his balance and hurried down the stairs, looking over his shoulder once. He had never kissed before, and still his lips tingled. Truly he had not eyes nor ears, if Ilio had felt this way and he never noticed. If he suspected nothing until the moment his master was snatched up to be taken to the White Tower. He should bide his friend’s wisdom. And perhaps he could do some good. At the least he would save his master’s favorite texts, the ones he had copied to preserve them.
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He rushed to Aristide’s study, an odd room jutting over the kitchen gardens. He turned a corner at the end of the narrow spiral stair and hit the chest of a Warden in full plate, iridescent white tabard over all. A hand clanked onto him, clawed armor piercing his shoulder. “You’re the apprentice.”
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Rufinus’s arm jerked like a marionette’s, adrenalin puppeting him. He didn’t realize his own intent, and the Warden certainly didn’t. He grabbed the man by the slit in his visor and hauled with all his weight, tossing the man head first down the small stair in a clatter of armor. As another came into the doorway to see what had happened, Rufinus slipped past him. He was thin enough. The books were already half-stuffed into a white satchel with Innocent’s crest on it, probably taken as evidence or some rot. The window to the garden was open. Rufinus grabbed the satchel and was out the window in a motion. The fall was farther than he’d thought, a moment in the air to wonder at himself. He’d just attacked a warden. And the ground!
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It hit him like a mace, and everything went white.
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The first sense to return was scent. The air smelled like shit. He turned over and vomited, and the third sense to return (taste was of course the second) was sound, the wet slosh of bile onto wooden slats, and an annoyed voice. “I think your friend wakes. You clean him. It is not included in the favor.” Then came feeling. His chest was full of poniards, sure as if he was in the widow’s embrace. He choked on his breath.
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A hand rolled him over, and finally sight came, Ilio’s luminous white silhouette, framed in black curls. “Easy. You broke most of your ribs. Breathe shallow, don’t gasp.”
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He calmed seeing his friend, and he realized they were on a narrow barge, sliding along the Luna, which explained the stench. He would rather not have breathed at all, but he found his breath, and he wiped his face on his sleeve. “How am I here?”
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“I saw you fly into the radish furrows like Saint Ida casting herself into the Rift, and I ran out and caught you up.”
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Rufinus looked to one side.
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“The books too,” Ilio said. For the first time he sounded gentle. The satchel was there under the seat. “Whatever are you going to do without me?”
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“I’m going to go to the Don of Tyrol and beg him to help my master.”
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“The fall must have knocked sense into you; that’s the first you’ve spoken any.”
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It was true that Rufinus wasn’t sure when the idea had come, before he hit the ground or just now. The Don of Tyrol was a known heathen, a hedonist, antithetical to the church and a favorite sermon topic of Innocent’s. He was also rumored to be a friend of Aristide’s, a rumor so preposterous that upon hearing it, three years ago, Rufinus had demanded the truth of his master.
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. “Yes, we are friends,” Aristides had said. “He is a man of learning.” And waving a placating hand at his stricken apprentice, “And yes, of many faults. At least he does not pretend otherwise. If such a man invites me to speak of Our Lady’s teachings to him, why should I deny him? I pray that someday his heart will follow his mind into truth.” Few Greyfriars felt the same. They said it was mockery when Tyrol gave a blanket invitation that all Greyfriars (and their sect alone) would be welcome as honored guests in his lands. No one had gone to take him up on it, even though they must live as guests on people’s good graces wherever they went. For men and women sworn to poverty and celibacy, Tyrol would not be a comfortable haven. Still, Rufinus thought the decree to be not mockery but a show of regard for his master. Maybe even a dare of sorts. He would take the Don up on this, and pray that he had power of some kind to set Aristide free. If indeed he could reach the Don in time to do anything. He must try.
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“Tyrol is the only place you can go that Innocent cannot follow. I’ve asked Nemo to take you there.”
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Rufinous looked to the man poling the barge. He was slight, dressed in deep indigo hose and a black tunic, with a short velvet cowl, hood pulled over his face. His hands were gloved, and his tall boots had padding at the knees. He looked like an assassin.
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“Nemo is ‘no one.’”
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“Rude,” Nemo said. Rufinus felt a cold shock at his own boldness. This wasn’t the abbey, where he could speak thoughts to himself as they came to his mind. One shouldn’t be clever with assassins. Nemo’s voice was a rich alto. Maybe he was castrati. Well, don’t say that aloud, at least.
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“I’m sorry.”
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“If it has to do with language, you’ll have to forgive him,” Ilio said. “I told you how he is.”
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“Indeed, you speak of little else in the grey hours of morning.”
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Rufinus flushed to match his hair, and he wasn’t sure if it was to be in the presence of some lover of Ilio’s (he liked castrati?) or that Ilio would speak of him.
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“You feign jealousy," Ilio said with forced levity.
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“You are right enough. I see by his face you have never had him.”
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It seemed cruel, if Ilio really felt for him—he remembered how angry the kiss had been—for Nemo to lay it bare. Rufinus drew himself up. “No, I have lain with no one. I am a Greyfriar. But were I not so vowed, I would not spurn such a friend.” It was easier to boast because he was so vowed, and because Ilio had never asked. He didn’t know how he felt for Ilio. The kiss made it confusing. He had never desired him in all their friendship, though now he felt some heat and ache, and he feared to part from him. But feelings were bad weathervanes, best ignored. He would not see Ilio abused.
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“Perhaps I should be jealous,” Nemo said. “That you earn a confession of a Greyfriar.”
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Ilio had no retort, and Rufinus hoped his attempt at kindness had not been a cruelty of its own. They went on in silence, awkward between the two of them, though Nemo seemed at ease, drifting on the sludge of the Luna under a dusk sky. A peal of hymns drifted over the city like invisible banners, the carillon of the White Tower, triumphant.

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